SawStop Safety System Saga Steams Forward

Blade-braking technology is a vital part of the table saws from SawStop , the ability to stop a spinning blade in 1/100 of a second is what put the company on the map. SawStop table saws are the only woodworking machines with this technology. Is that about to change? Below is a link to a Boston Globe article detailing a jury-awarded verdict for a lawsuit that’s the first of its kind. We’re working on what this might mean to woodworkers and the woodworking industry. What do you think?

http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2010/03/06/man_wins_15m_in_first_of_its_kind_saw_case/?p1=Well_MostPop_Emailed5

What changes do you see springing from cases such as these? If you don’t think changes are in the pipeline, take a look at this link.

http://tablesawattorney.com/index.php

For more background information, check out this article from INC. Magazine.

http://www.inc.com/magazine/20050701/disruptor-gass.html

- Glen D. Huey

36 thoughts on “SawStop Safety System Saga Steams Forward

  1. Alan McConnell

    Isn’t it just so nice that these lawyers are looking out for us. They could not give a rats-ass about our safety or well-being. They are looking to fatten their bank accounts, and really don’t care how. Same class of lawyers who have the auto accident injury settlement advertisements on television. Maybe we should get some lawyers to go after these folks for financial re-compensation damages to the machinery manufacturers. Too many frivolous lawsuits to these large companies will result in higher tool prices for us, or worse, manufacturers to cease production entirely. Wake up folks, these lawyers are NOT your friend!

  2. John

    Some of these points seem a little outdated, as the Sawstop Cabinet Saw is now priced lower than the newest Unisaw.

    I own a Sawstop (Industrial) Cabinet Saw, and while I looked at other saws before I bought mine, the quality of the saw coupled with the extra margin of safety it provides made the decision to spend an extra $500 over the Powermatic to which I compared it at the time (2005) an easy one.

    How much would I pay to have an index finger or thumb back? You better believe it’s one heck of a lot more than a few hundred, or even a few thousand, dollars.

    For the record, a few years’ experience with it has convinced me that the Sawstop Cabinet Saw is a better saw than any Delta or Powermatic I have ever used, in terms of fit, finish, reliability, power, noise level, dust collection and ergonomics.

    That’s a subjective opinion, of course, but it is rooted in more than 20 years’ woodworking experience.

    It surprises me to read that other woodworkers want to discount or ignore the plain fact that accidents happen in workshops, no matter how careful or diligent we are.

    Haven’t we all left a little blood in a project or two?

    Why wouldn’t you want – or demand – an inherently safer tool?

    Incidentally, I personally practice better shop safety in general, and especially on the tablesaw, now that I have a Sawstop. This is a big, powerful, industrial machine that commands a user’s attention when it is running, but the effect of having this saw in the middle of my shop is greater than that; it is a 750 pound reminder to work safely. Every time the black and red bulk of this machine enters my field of view, I am subconsciously reminded of why it exists in the first place -safety.

    Aside from the now largely moot discussion of price, a key issue in this debate is the ethical responsibility of manufacturers to incorporate safety advances into their products.

    In simplest terms it comes down to this: if a company, or industry, chooses greater risk (or less inherent safety) merely for the sake of higher profit margins (not black versus red ink, but black versus more black), then they have chosen avarice over virtue.

    Unfortunately, in the real world of corporate decision-making, virtue is seen as altruism, which is seen, in turn, as anathema to capitalism. Like parents correcting a willful child, we need, as a society, some mechanism to force virtue onto those who are otherwise intractable. Litigation and legislation, imperfect as they may be, are parts of those mechanisms.

    Interestingly, short-sighted decisions tend to be poor quality ones that ultimately hurt rather than help companies’ bottom lines. All things being equal, consumers tend to buy safer, higher quality products, as evidenced by the two-decade growth, and recent en masse defection, of Toyota buyers as a consequence of safety and quality concerns.

    Which brings me back to my opening statement: at it’s current price point, the Sawstop is poised to begin taking significant market share from other manufacturers who have resisted this technology. The lawsuit in Boston will become mere background noise compared to the clamor of lost revenue.

    Unfortunately, until manufacturers begin to willingly take the virtuous high-road, it will continue to take litigation to kick-start the process of making inherently safer products.

  3. James Watriss

    Absolutely. I’m all for keeping good ideas and safer products as far away from the market as possible. We really need to stand up for the little guys. You know, the CEOs that make a killing while more and more of our tools are being made out of plastic… oops, sorry, "composite,"… and don’t have to care what people do or don’t know about common sense on saws. These poor people are a serious minority, and they have rights, too.

    I sold tools for three years, and I can gratefully say that I didn’t have to teach anyone anything, didn’t need to know if they’d ever even used one. Not my problem, learn by doing. Common sense comes from common experience. Just like hitting your thumb with a hammer, running your hand across the saw is how you learn these things… it’s recoverable. Not my fault, not my problem, don’t have to care… caveat emptor. Something better or safer is available? What, are you an idiot that you need these things? Piss off with your cross-peen hammers to keep from hitting your fingers, and your saw guards, and push sticks and your safety goggles, and ear plugs… be a man! Tell your boss that you’re tired, and don’t wanna work that day. Tell your wife to quit bugging you. Tell your 1 year old to quit crying in the middle of the night, get your priorities in order. This is all common sense, people!

  4. Steven D. Johnson

    Thank you for the link to the Inc Magazine article. The final paragraph really helped me make up my mind about buying a SawStop. The author stated that "Gass still dreams of getting out of manufacturing altogether. He really doesn’t want to make the power tools we buy. He just wants to make the power tools we buy better." I am certainly not interested in spending thousands for a tool from a manufacturer who says he wants to get out of the business. What would that mean for long term assurances of warranty, potential upgrades, product continuity, parts, etc.?

  5. Michael

    "The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers"
    (only if they are wall street and republican)

    Hey Chris, why did you put a link in your article to a tort lawyer fishing/phishing for clients?

  6. Chris Hudson

    Is SawStop worth it? One way to look at it is ‘expectancy theory’ – probability

    Say adding SawStop technology to a Saw costs $300. Say the cost of an amputation is $300,000. The ‘break even’ is 1 chance in 1000. Thus, if there is more than 1 chance in 1000 of an accident of this type – SawStop justifies itself. Given 131,000 saw injuries annually (yes, I realize most are kickbacks)I would think so.

    Admittedly, I hate large table saws. I avoid using one whenever possible – using my Festool TS-55, a bandsaw, even a PROXXON table saw for all small or thin parts.

    However, should I ever buy a full-size tablesaw, it will be a SawStop. How could I ever let my Grandchildren anywhere near my shop if there were a tablesaw without this technology??

    Chris

  7. J.Lemire

    I am a shop teacher at a Canadian High school. In 2006 I was given the go ahead by my division to buy a new table saw. I did some research and decided on the Saw Stop. The school division did not immediately agree because of the higher cost of this machine comapred to others. However, after considering the liability if they bought a standard saw knowing that there was a safer product on the market, they agreed to it. When the neighboring school division heard about this, they also replaced all table saws in their division high schools. In the past 4 years, 3 students in my shop have been spared their fingers, for which I am very grateful. The Saw Stop has reduced my stress level and I am sure, added a few years to my life expectancy. My colleagues at the other high schools are also happy with the Saw Stop. We particularly like the riving knife and anti kickback device. These features have practically eliminated kickback in our division. Before I had the Saw Stop kickback occured once per semester on average. Since 2006, I have only had one incident of potential kickback and the result was a lot less severe. In addition the placement of the on/off switch also helps prevent accidents. I have been teaching shop for 20 years and I am quite relieved that I will likely finish my career and not have nay student ever, sever their fingers. Thank you Mr. Gass!

  8. Jim S

    Responses to a couple of earlier posts:

    "No, actually they are doing it because of a new UL standard that started phasing in riving knives by 1/2010."

    "There are no UL standards that mandate anybody do anything. They are a privately owned testing agency with a federal charter of sorts. You can be "UL listed" if you pass their tests."

    I believe you are correct that the UL standards are voluntary. However, I’ve seen it in print in multiple places (for example, Fine Woodworking and Woodworkers’ Journal) that the new UL standard is what is motivating manufacturers to start using riving knives in the last year or so. They’ve been available in Europe (and praised) for many years, so it’s not like a new invention.

    "If there is no emphasis on proper and consistent use of all safety equipment, that Saw-Stop is just as dangerous as any other saw."

    No, it’s still much safer, since it will prevent most amputations and severe lacerations. I agree that not using the riving knife, guard, and push sticks is just stupid. I will say, though, that the guards/splitters/antikickback pawls that come with tablesaws are usually removed because usually they’re a pain and don’t work well. Hopefully, the new riving knives will be better.

  9. Lea

    The blade-stop technology on the Saw-Stop is great, but the emphasis on this particular safety feature of the saw is resulting in MORE dangerous saw usage.

    A snow-birding friend of mind invited me to a woodshop Open House at the retirement community where he is staying. It is a well-equipped shop with TWO cabinet saws – an older model which I cannot recall, and a brand new Saw-stop with extension tables and everything.

    In the hour that I was there, I saw at least two older gentlemen come in and rip short pieces of wood WITH NO RIVING KNIFE OR GUARD IN PLACE! They pushed the wood past the blade with their fingers, not even a push stick. None of these safety accessories were even visible – I have no idea where they are stored.

    Two other gentlemen who regularly use the shop stated that NOBODY in the community bothers to use either the guard or the riving knife. They are all so impressed that the saw will keep them from cutting off their fingers that they are totally oblivious to the dangers of kickback. I pointed out that it will only take one incident of a board thrown back into someone’s stomach to prove that the saw is still dangerous, but they seemed indifferent.

    Remember, people in retirement communities often do not have a long history of machine use. Also, they are older, their reflexes are slower, and vision is not as keen. If there is no emphasis on proper and consistent use of all safety equipment, that Saw-Stop is just as dangerous as any other saw.

    IMO.

  10. Robert Cook

    I own a small woodworking company employing in good times about 25 people. Many years ago I had an employee cut 3 fingers off on a properly guarded powermatic. He, the operator, decided to bypass the guard. Because he chose to bypass the guard I was not a fault.

    Having been sued before and lost I can see how the lawyers would use this technology to sue the employer for negligence. This makes me want to go out and replace all 4 of my table saws, but, where is the money going to come from?

    You can read and understand all the safety recommendations and or be trained by an experienced, safe operator. But, it only takes a split second, one bad decision and fingers are gone.

    We are human and as humans make mistakes. I think the Saw Stop technology is awesome and intend to buy one when I buy my next table saw. In fact I’m considering buying the 10" cabinet saw for my home shop.

  11. Chris C

    Jim had made some points:

    "Cost plays into most decisions that corporations make. However, the SawStop saws are only somewhat more expensive than their competitors. They just don’t offer any bargain-basement products."

    The SawStop is a lot more than their competitors, and they are
    never to my knowledge discounted under list. I still think they
    are a great value anyway, but that’s just me.

    "Not safe, safer. And manufacturers use licensed technology all the time in their products."

    No, I disagree. That is not what an attorney would state when
    one of the devices failed his client. That’s not how these guys work.
    In the case of the unknown, they’d rather it say on the box: "WARNING:
    this product will cut your hand clean off if you make a mistake."
    rather than imply you are somehow "protected". At least until they
    have a comprehensive understanding of the technology. Or perhaps
    they are developing their own. ??

    And manufacturers are very picky about what they license. This isn’t
    software; your supplier or license granter goes DOA and you are
    in a world of crap with thousands of physical products coming
    off a line.

    "No, actually they are doing it because of a new UL standard that started phasing in riving knives by 1/2010."

    There are no UL standards that mandate anybody do anything. They
    are a privately owned testing agency with a federal charter
    of sorts. You can be "UL listed" if you pass their tests.

    OSHA can, but that is in the workplace. I believe the CPSC can as
    well for the consumer space. But I don’t think they have mandated anything. At any rate, I think magazines like this one, that berate
    manufacturers over not including riving knives has had a lot to
    do with it.

    chris

  12. Peter

    I agree that the plaintiff, who chose not to buy a sawstop, should assume responsibility for his injury.

    What interests me the most is the business decision that all of the major manufacturers made when they showed Gass the door. I don’t blame the lawyers at those companies. When you make business decisions, you should consult with all of your experts: your sales and marketing people, the finance guys, and your legal counsel. It is the responsibility of the lawyers to state their opinions and provide their assessment of the potential risks. The finance guys can run the numbers, working with the sales guys to figure out how the decision affects volume and price. The finance guys tell you how much they think it will cost to manufacture, and you run the numbers. Then you weigh the pros and cons.

    In my humble opinion, this is a situation where the manufacturers listened to their lawyers a bit too much. From what I can tell, Sawstop is selling well even though they cost nearly twice as much as other comparable saws. The competing manufacturers made a bad business decision. The sooner they admit that and start exploring their options for implementing a similar safety mechanism, the better off they’ll be on the bottom line.

    Sawstops are well made saws. But my uneducated guess on why they’re able to command such a price premium is due to the lack of competition and the fact that they’re probably still trying to recoup their initial R&D cost (which is significant for a startup with only a few products). Delta Porter Cable could EASILY afford the R&D costs necessary to develop such a device since they have so many streams of revenue to cover it. That means they could afford to develop this technology and offer the saw at a lower price than the sawstop from the get-go…

    They could crush Sawstop via competition (which would be very sad). I just don’t get why they haven’t done so.

    I bet they’ll come out with a competing technology in the next 5 years. By then, I hope Sawstop will have maintained its competitive edge by offering new woodworking tools with their brake technology. Otherwise they’ll be sunk.

    Just my $.02.

  13. Jim S

    "1. It is not easy to retrofit. the SawStop was designed with the safety brake in mind at is core. Other saws are not."

    The technology became available around 2001 – 2002. Most manufacturers have brought out new generations since then.

    "2. It is not a large corporation that owns this technology. It is three guys(two of them lawyers). This might be too risky a dependency for a company that ship a gigantic number of products(ie: almost every major tool company)."

    I believe that SawStop did not intend to manufacture the product itself until they were unable to license it. The saw manufacturer or a third party would have built it, including the blade braking technology.

    "3. The license fees are too high. ?? I don’t know what they are but it is a possibility. See #2 above as well."

    Cost plays into most decisions that corporations make. However, the SawStop saws are only somewhat more expensive than their competitors. They just don’t offer any bargain-basement products.

    "4. Nobody wants to claim their saw is "safe" in general, let alone based on a technology they don’t know/own."

    Not safe, safer. And manufacturers use licensed technology all the time in their products.

    "5. Many manufacturers are under the assumption(and I agree) that kickback is more dangerous… almost every manufacturer now offers riving knives and improved guards across their product lines. I would suspect it is because of customer demand…not lawsuits."

    No, actually they are doing it because of a new UL standard that started phasing in riving knives by 1/2010.

  14. Chris C

    "All that said, I don’t understand why tool manufacturers would not attempt to offer the SawStop option on their products."

    I already mentioned a number of reasons earlier. to elaborate:

    1. It is not easy to retrofit. the SawStop was designed with
    the safety brake in mind at is core. Other saws are not.

    2. It is not a large corporation that owns this technology. It
    is three guys(two of them lawyers). This might be too risky
    a dependency for a company that ship a gigantic number
    of products(ie: almost every major tool company).

    3. The license fees are too high. ?? I don’t know what
    they are but it is a possibility. See #2 above as well.

    4. Nobody wants to claim their saw is "safe" in general,
    let alone based on a technology they don’t know/own.

    5. Many manufacturers are under the assumption(and I
    agree) that kickback is more dangerous than a flat
    out amputation. The SawStop doesn’t help with kickback
    other than with typical things: riving knife, etc.

    Speaking of #5, you should take note that almost every
    manufacturer now offers riving knives and improved
    guards across their product lines. I would suspect it is
    because of customer demand…not lawsuits.

    chris

  15. Eric Sandvik

    The bottom line is if the argument is the Sawstop tech was available. Then why didn’t he buy the Sawstop. He knew what the difference in safety was then. He also knew the difference in price. He made his risk to cost analysis and then didn’t pay attention.

    I don’t have a table saw, if I were to buy one considering my general lack of experience around them I believe I’d go ahead and spend the money for the piece of mind. Other people might not. Its their right to not purchase them just as it’s Ryobi’s right to offer a saw without that feature.

    Now if the Ryobi saw had a defect in manufacturing that caused the blade to fly out and chop his fingers off that would be a different story.

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